Using the N word in a historical context

So as you may have seen, I’ve recently started the process of typing up my Grandfather’s World War 2 diaries.  When I first started the process, in my introductory blog posting, I said “I am not sure what I will find in these entries, I really have no idea.  It could be as dull as dishwater, it could be horrific, or it may just be a factual account of what he experienced”.

What I didn’t anticipate was having to decide whether to transcribe an entry with the N-word and post it on the Internet.  Let’s face it, you put stuff out there on the net and you can be slaughtered by the general public.

I personally would never use the word in relation to a person, just as I wouldn’t use any number of completely inappropriate slur terms for a particular group of people.  Quite simply, in this era it is rude, derogatory and completely inappropriate.  In 1941 however it was most rightly or wrongly, merely a way of describing dark-skinned people – in this particular case, Sri Lankans (or Ceylon as it was then called).

My grandfather quite possibly had never actually seen a very dark-skinned person before arriving in Colombo, on his way to North Africa to fight in the war.  The Sri Lankans would have most likely been exotic and unusual.   Its only recently, since my grandfather’s passing that we have seen darker skinned people in our city.  The chances of a dark-skinned person living here in the 1940s I imagine would be highly unlikely.

So what should do with this fateful word in the middle of an otherwise innocuous sentence?  Should I post it in as a matter of historical record?  Should I * out a couple of letters as I would with a swear word?

What would you do?


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